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School board looks at building options

Posted 3/21/12 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

With the number of students attending McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 still on the rise and showing no sign of slowing up in the near future, the district school board is moving as fast as it can to come up with more classroom space.
While the board has already made the decision to move sixth graders from the Watford City Elementary School to the high school building this coming fall in order to help alleviate the cramped conditions at the elementary school, the board knows that action is but a temporary fix.
And on Monday, March 12, the board got its first real look at some of its new building options as well as possible cost estimates associated with updating its buildings.
“We’re basically looking at several different plans that will accommodate the new students that the district is expecting to see over the next several years,” states Steve Holen, district superintendent. “The plans include everything from just adding on to the existing elementary school as a short-term fix all the way to building a new high school campus and remodeling the existing high school as a middle school.”
During Monday night’s meeting, ICON, a Grand Forks architectural firm, presented the board with four different building scenarios that could accommodate up to 1,200 students and carried price tags upward to $42 million.
“If you (the board) opted to build a brand new high school in a new location, obviously it would be the most expensive,” stated Todd Mitzel of ICON. “While that option would be the most expensive, it would also have the least impact on the students because the transition would be very easy.”
Under a plan to build a new high school, which would accommodate 600 students, the existing high school would be renovated to accommodate a middle school for 600 students. In addition, the existing elementary school would be remodeled for 450 students in grades two through four and a new building would be built to handle a projected 450 students in Pre-kindergarten through the first grade.
Other proposals also provided the options of building a new combined high school and middle school, renovating the high school into an elementary school for grades two through four and renovations to the existing elementary school.
“No matter what happens, we really need to have more lunch space and gym space in the elementary school,” stated Sherry Lervick, elementary school principal. “We can’t get by with the existing gym.”
But as the school board soon discovered in reviewing their building options, the devil is in the details. With an ever increasing student population, the district’s two buildings don’t have the capacity to truly handle the projected growth.
“Any way you look at it, we’re going to be a big school system,” stated Jerry Samuelson. “We have to plan on 1,200 students.”
And that many students means that the district’s current number of classrooms is woefully inadequate and so are the current gymnasiums and lunchrooms.
“We haven’t got the gym capacity to handle the students we have now in the high school,” stated Kelly Norby. “The current gym was insufficient from the start.”
While Monday night’s meeting was just the first of what will become weekly meetings by the board to look at building options, Holen believes that the board’s best action may be to tackle an addition onto the existing elementary school.
“We don’t want the elementary school to have more than 450 students,” states Holen. “That is the number that all of the big school districts use and it is a number that we should shoot at as well.”
According to Holen, it would be possible to build an addition onto the  elementary school that would add more classrooms, gym space and additional lunchroom space.
“It’s not a bad option to consider doing the smaller project first,” stated Holen. “We don’t have to pull the trigger right away on a new high school. And by doing the elementary school, it buys us a little time to see if our enrollment numbers keep going up.”
If the board does decide to go forward with initial remodeling at the elementary school, he would like to see the project be in the $7 million or less range.
“I don’t see that the board will be going to the district patrons for a vote on a project like this,” stated Holen. “Financing of the project would be a district obligation.”
However, according to Holen, once the board has had more times to review its building options, the public will be provided with an opportunity to discuss the district’s building needs.
In other business, the school board:
• Approved the advertising for a new math teaching and a new physical education/social studies teaching positions at the high school.
• Approved the hiring of a new middle school principal for grades 6, 7 and 8.
• Accepted the resignation of Lois Brew as an elementary school teacher.
• Approved hiring Pat Spacher as an assistant baseball coach.